San Jose, CA -- April 22, 2012.
On a sunny San Jose morning, the Metro Triathlon began with much camaraderie among the well-dressed men of Team Every Man Jack. Our reserved bike rack was the male equivalent of a Juicy Couture store -- matching blue and white hats, warmup outfits and lycra, the sweet scent of Every Man Jack shampoo and lotion wafting in the morning breeze. We were the poster boys for the Metro Triathlon.
Certainly, no team is more Metro than us.
Unfortunately this triathlon had been converted to a duathlon. Lake Almaden, which, even on a good day isn't exactly Lake Tahoe, was slightly more awash in diarrhea-causing vermin than usual. So with our health in mind,race organizers made the difficult decision to spare us from a bacteria bath and replaced the swim with a one-mile run.
Being a positive-outlook kind of team, the guys took the news in stride. Heck, most of us were downright giddy about the idea that we would be spared the pain of having to chase down the good swimmers on the bike. David Condon and I were giggling like school girls, joking that we should run the first leg wearing our bike helmets to take full advantage of the duathlon format.
I didn't see Niall Murray, Pat Lenaghan, Adam Carlson or Keith Jamtaas looking particularly sad either.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ritch Viola was dealing with the harsh reality that the duathlon format favored nearly everyone more than him. Ritch typically hops on his bike with a sizeable lead. Not today. If Ritch was going to do well, this would be a painful race for him.
After the young guys' waves took off, Ritch and I joined the slow walk to the start of the elderly gentlemen's wave. He looked forlornly at the contaminated pond, and wondered aloud whether there was any aerodynamic advantage to running the first leg wearing his swim cap.
Being old, we agreed that we should run the one mile at a reasonable pace.
At the gun, I took a few relaxed strides, looked at Ritch intending to say something encouraging, and watched him bolt for T1 like a man escaping a burning building. Realizing that I was the only one running easily, I panicked and picked up the pace, trying unsuccessfully to bridge the gap to Ritch.
A panting 5:50 later, I mounted the bike about 20 seconds behind Ritch and set out to catch him. It was obvious that his faster run had been the right strategy. A mile into the ride, I rolled up on a large knot of racers and had to slow down.
This pack was the unfortunate consequence of the cancelled swim. Without the separation that the swim creates, there were too many people on the road at the same time, many of them riding fairly slowly. On the bright side, it was clear that all the top racers in the 45-49 age group were also in this group. With a little patience, I figured things would thin out and I could go around the group to the outside.
I waited for a minute, thought I spotted a gap and surged to pass as a referee rode up on a scooter. I looked at the referee, shrugged my shoulders at the group, and dropped low on the aerobars, pedaling hard to get around the whole pack. I was nearly there, but for a couple guys riding side-by-side at the front, when I found myself plummeting into an unmarked pothole roughly the size of the crater from the meteorite that eradicated the dinosaurs.
The irony that the city managed to find a bacterium the size of an atom in a 10 acre lake, but didn't see that half the street on the bike course had caved in did nothing to lessen my terror as my bike and I fell into nothingness.
For a second, I thought I had found the unmarked passage to the center of the earth. I knew an impact was coming, but it seemed like a long, long time before my front wheel touched down, violently crashing into opposite crater wall of the pothole.
Hearing a distinct "crack," a loud "creak" and two "blams!," I braced myself for a summersault over the handlebars and a belly-flop onto the asphalt as my bike bucked violently.
But today was my lucky day. Defying the laws of physics, the pothole spit me back out into daylight.
"I'm alive!" I thought euphorically.
But joy quickly turned into panic. At 25 mph, I was holding onto a dangerously wobbly set of handlebars hanging just above my front wheel, my rear tire was going flat, and after a minute or so of pedaling like a bear on a unicycle, I could hear the distinct sound of a chain in the last death-rattles before it slips off the outside ring.
To make matters worse, despite my frantic pedaling to keep up with the traffic that I was now no longer passing, bikes were overtaking me at an ever-increasing rate on both the right and the left. I was guilty of failing to overtake, drafting, blocking and probably driving while texting and failing to yield to a school bus, but I had a lazer-like focus on remaining upright. (I later learned that I was not only penalized, but that I received penalties totaling six minutes. Apparently, my frantic effort to get to the curb looked more like canny drafting than a man trying to keep the rubber on the road -- a fact confirmed when the motorcycle roared away in search of other criminals instead of asking whether I needed help.)
With my handlbars slanted at a 45 degree angle to the ground, I couldn't reach the brakes, so I just worried about maintaining forward momentum long enough to reach the safety of the curb. What seemed like an eternity (but was probably a minute) later, I made it.
I knew immediately that my race was over, but I still planned to get the full day's exercise. So after fixing my tire and chain, I set about trying to bend my handlebars back to level. No go. And I didn't have a tool to fix the problem.
I waited for a few more minutes until the bike traffic thinned out, then pedaled carefully with my handlebars jiggling loosely over ever bump to the next intersection.
Ten minutes later, the SAG guy showed up -- without tools.
On the bright side, being out of the race allowed me to give my full attention to watching an amazing Team EMJ performance.
As I leaned against my bike waiting for the SAG wagon, I had a front row seat for the turn at mile 10 of the bike course. I watched proudly as the team kit tore repeatedly through a left hand turn on the backs of one fast athlete after the other. Eric, Josh, David, Dan, Pat, Ritch, Adam, Ollie, Niall, Keith, Jake and Jeremy were on a mission.
Though to what extent though, none of us could have imagined.
After borrowing an allen wrench from a kind competitor and cruising through the last 15 miles of the bike ride on a tire that was going flat yet again, I arrived at T2 just as Eric Clarkson was sprinting through the finish line, scoring a podium position in the pro division.
I started the run, spotted Adam standing on the side of the road and asked whether I should even bother doing the 10k -- after all, I was now so far behind that I was worried I would miss seeing our guys on the podium. Adam convinced me that I needed to run hard to score points for the team competition, (while he, himself stood on the side of the run course with a bottle of water in the cool of a shade tree, nursing a tender knee).
I'm glad I did the run. Not only did I need to burn calories, I witnessed a complete domination by Team EMJ in its inaugural team race.
First, David Condon absolutely crushed the competition in the men's 35-39 age group. In fact, he finished 3rd overall including the pros. Then, by the time I had run about a mile and a half, Pat Lenaghan, Dan Ross and Ollie Ralph flew by in the opposite direction like cars on a Team EMJ freight train. They were headed to a 1-2-3 finish in the 30-34 age group.
The next person I saw came as a surprise. Without the benefit of the swim leg, Ritch was leading his age group, running for his life, just a couple minutes behind the young guys. He was clearly in control of the men's 40-44 age group and, not satisfied, was working to catch the trio of young guys up ahead.
The rest of the team came in rapid succession. Niall, who finished 4th in the 30-34 age group, only 30 seconds behind Ollie, Josh, Keith Jamtaas, Jake Martini and Jeremy Devich -- each easily breaking the two-hour barrier, looking like an all-star in their own right, gave me the motivation to catch one 60 plus racer after another.
The 60 year old guys were really impressed by my amazing running speed, incidentally. I think I'd like to racewith them more often.
After the last of my teammates passed by on the out-and-back, I still had at least three miles of running left. I momentarily lost the will to run hard. But then I remembered that the Team EMJ guys would probably eat all the pizza if I didn't hustle to the finish line. I managed to bring it home at sub-7 minute miles, arriving just in time to score the last couple pieces of ham and black olive pizza.
After all the results were in, Team EMJ not only dominated the podium, it dominated the overall results. You have to read quite a way down the overall results page to realize that you're not just reading the Team EMJ roster.
And if you read the results from the bottom up, there's my name. Just making sure that the team doesn't come across as elitist. I'm all about the team.
After Niall did a semi-nude, lather and rinse photo-shoot in the outdoor shower -- to the great joy of the female participants, posing with a bottle of Every Man Jack shampoo -- to the great joy of Ritch Viola -- half the team mounted the podium. And while some team dress etiquette was stretched, the gang universally looked good in their post-race Team Every Man Jack shirts and hats. So good that one female age-group winner wanted to borrow my shirt for her trip to the podium. I directed her to Ritch, who supplied her with a shirt.
And for those who aren't aware, due to some late registrations, the race organizers were short a few medals. Some of the slower finishers, folks for whom the medal means more than perhaps it does for us, did not receive one. As Ritch and I were walking back to our cars, he spotted a sad young lady without a medal who was pushing her bike back to her car. He stopped, dug through his bag, found his medal, caught up to her and gave her his medal.
Her eyes lit up and she smiled at Ritch. "You just made my day," she said.
A perfect end to a perfect day.